December 23 1944
Somewhere in the snowy, Belgium, while the entire 7th Armored Division and part of another one, CCB-9-AD, was retreating trough the 82nd Airborne Division’s Main Line of Resistance, a sergeant in a Tank Destroyer spotted an American soldier digging a foxhole. This soldier, Pfc Martin, 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, see picture left, locked up and asked : Are you, looking for a safe place ? Yeah !!! answered the tanker. Well, buddy, drawled Martin … Just pull your tank behind me ! … I am the 82nd Airborne and this place is as far as the bastards are going !
551st Parachute Infantry Battalion
517th Parachute Infantry Regiment
(82nd Airborne Division)
Vicinity of Trois Ponts, Belgium
January 2 to January 7 1945
On December 16 1944; the Germans attacked through the lightly held Eiffel and Ardennes sectors with Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model’s Army Group B. In this period of the war, Army Group B was composed of the General der Panzertruppe Hasso Eccard von Manteufell’s 5.Panzer-Army, a combat outfit assembled with the remainders of General der Panzertruppe Geyr von Schweppenburg’s Panzer Group West); SS-Oberstgruppenführer Josef Sepp Dietrich’s 6.SS-Panzer-Army, and General der Panzertruppe Erich Bradenberger’s newly reorganized 7.Army. This blow was aimed to capture the bridges crossing the Meuse River between Liège and Namur, then up north, for the Port of Antwerp.
As Adolf Hitler wanted it, the blow was to be delivered with such a terrific force and surprise that the four American Divisions in that sector were quickly overrun, destroyed or driven back. The German Armies would then proceed plain north and west almost unchecked. Units from the 2nd British Army and from the American First, Third, Ninth and First Allied Airborne Army were quickly rushed to the threatened area and by December 27 1944 the German offensive had been stopped and the Allied position stabilized. The blow had split the 12th Army Group into two parts making control by Gen Omar N. Bradley all but impossible. Recognizing this situation, Eisenhower fixed a boundary running east and west through the breach from Givet, France, to Prüm, Germany. All forces north of this boundary were placed under the command of Montgomery while Bradley retained command of that part of the 12-AG, south of this boundary. Montgomery’s forces included the 1st Canadian Army, the 2nd British Army, the 9th US Army, and the 1st US Army reinforced with portions of the First Allied Airborne Army, in the case, Ridgway’s XVIII Corps (Airborne).
The General Situation
On December 20 1944, Montgomery received instructions from Eisenhower to attack to the south with his forces and link up with the Patton’s 3-A in the vicinity of Houffalize, Belgium. The 3-A Army was to begin its attack toward the north on December 22 and relieved the embattled 101-A/B in Bastogne on December 26. Accordingly, Courtney H. Hodges’s 1-A was given the mission of attacking south toward Houffalize and making contact with Patton’s troops in that vicinity. The attack was ordered for January 3, 0830, and the general plan of the Army was as follows the XVIII Corps (Airborne), consisting of the : 30, 75, 106 (-) IDs and the 82-A/B, would attack south and southeast from its present position to secure the Salm River line and the town of Vielsalm. The VII Corps was to attack south through the gap opened by the XVIII Corps and effect the link up, in the vicinity of Houffalize with the 3-A’s spearhead. The XVIII Corps assigned the mission of seizing and securing the Salm River line and the town of Vielsalm to the 82nd Airborne Division. The Division in turn planned to attack south and southeast on January 3, 0830, with three regiments abreast, in that order and from left to right : 517-PIR, 505-PIR and the 325-GIR. The 504-PIR and the 508-PIR were to be initially in division reserve. The Line of Contact was to be the Line of Departure while contact was to be from left to right.
Dispositions & Plans, 517-PIR
The 517-PIR, as of January 1 1945, had its 2nd and 3rd Battalions in an assembly area north of Trois-Ponts. The 1/517 was en route from an action while attached to the 3-AD and probably would not be available on the morning of January 3. However the 1/517 was to be available to the regimental commander at approximately 1200, January 3. The Commanding General of the 82-A/B ordered the Regimental CO of the 517-PIR to relieve the 504-PIR during the night of January 1-2, and to attack south and southeast at 0830 from its positions to secure the Salm River line from Trois-Ponts to Grand Halleux. The 3/517 was ordered to effect the relief of the 504-PIR on the night of January 1-2. On January 2, the 551-PIB was attached to the 517-PIR for the attack. The regimental CO decided to attack with two battalions abreast : the 2/517 and the 551, the 551 was to be on the right while the 3/517, in reserve, was to assemble in the rear of the 2/517 after the passage of the lines.
The Battalion Situation
The 551 (Goyas) had been in an assembly area to the rear of the 504-PIR since making a night attack December 27-28, 1944, was only slightly under-strength in men and was up to TO&E in equipment. The morale was excellent and the combat efficiency of the unit was excellent. Before proceeding further it would be wise to review the organization of this separate parachute battalion. The 551-PIB had been reorganized during May and June 1944 while in Italy. This reorganization, under the authorization of NATUSA (North Africa Third United States Army), had increased the strength of the battalion slightly by relieving headquarters company of its organic battalion administrative personnel and converting it into a heavy weapons company with one platoon of light machine guns, (two sections of four guns each), one 81-MM mortar platoon (four guns), and an AT and demolition platoon (one AT section of nine rocket launcher teams and a demolition section of twelve men); organizing a battalion headquarters detachment comprised of the battalion staff and all battalion administrative personnel; organizing a service company detachment to preform the necessary logistical services for the battalion. Furthermore, after the invasion of Southern France, the battalion had been issued sufficient one-quarter ton trucks to be issued two per rifle company and five to headquarters company.
At approximately 1200, January 2, Lt Col Wood Joerg, battalion commander, was notified to proceed to the Regimental CP to receive the regimental attack order for the following day. He was told that his battalion would be one of the assault battalions and was given the boundaries for the regimental zone of action. The battalion commander immediately notified the company commanders of the impending attack, ordered them to make a quick reconnaissance of the regimental zone, notified them that the battalion attack order would be issued at 1400 January 2 at the Battalion CP and departed for the Regimental CP. That day, the weather was heavily foggy, overcast and pretty cold (below freezing night and day). There was a blanket of snow on the ground about twelve inches deep and frozen almost solid.
Because of the fog visibility was limited to between one hundred and two hundred yards in the low areas while the high ground was completely obliterated. A quick reconnaissance was made but little knowledge of the terrain in front of the line of departure was gained, because of the fog. The HQs Co and his platoon leaders proceeded to a high point, northeast of Basse-Bodeux in the right (west) portion of the regimental zone. Observation was limited to the present line of contact and about two hundred yards beyond. Based on the scant information available and a presumption of what would happen if the battalion were assigned the right (west) portion of the regimental zone, initial position areas were picked for all the platoons and so designated to the platoon leaders. Contact was also made with an observation group from the 3/517 and some information of the terrain to the front was gained. At 1400, January 2, the COs assembled at the Battalion CP to receive the battalion attack order.
The Battalion Plan of Attack
The battalion commander, after a meeting with the S-2, S-3, Artillery Liaison Officer and the HQs Co CO, issued the following oral order :
An estimated enemy battalion, reinforced with some tanks of the 62.Volksgrenadier-Division faces the regiment; strong enemy positions are known to exist on the high ground south and southeast of Basse-Bodeux. The 517 attacks at 0830 January 3 and secures the Salm River line from Trois-Ponts to Grand Halleux; the 2/517 on the left (east), the 551 on the right (west); the 3/505 is on our right; contact is from left to right; 460-PFAB is in direct support of the regiment. There will be an artillery preparation from 0815 to 0830 on the initial objectives the last five minutes of which will be smoke; the battalion will attack along the axis Saint-Jacques, Dairomont, Petit Halleux, and secure the crossings of the Salm in the vicinity of Grand Halleux; Able Co on the left, Charlie on the right and Baker in reserve; Line of Departure is present line of contact; Able Co, with one section of machine guns attached, will seize the objective #1 and be prepared to continue the attack on order; Charlie, with one section of machine guns attached, will seize objective #2 and be prepared to continue the attack on order; Mortar platoon will be in general support of the battalion and be prepared to fire smoke missions at 0830 on the near edge of objective #2; forward observers with SCR-300 radios will be furnished to Able and Charlie Cos; AT and Demolition Platoon will furnish three rocket launcher teams for the protection of the battalion CP; Demolition section will be prepared to remove any mines discovered along roads in the battalion zone; Priority initially in zone of Charlie Co; Balance of the platoon under control of the CO, Baker Co will be in battalion reserve; Initial position in forward assembly area; Move forward on order of the battalion commander; Battalion aid station at Basse Bodeux to open at 0830; Battalion ammunition distributing point at Basse Bodeux; Squad rolls will be placed in company areas and picked up in that area by the S-4 tomorrow; Men will not wear overcoats or overshoes; One-third of a K ration and the SOP amount of ammunition will be issued in this area prior to the movement as it is impossible to get vehicles into the forward assembly area; Communications SOP, and the command group will follow Charlie Co initially; A forward assembly area had been selected and each company was instructed to send one non-coms to the assistant S-3 (a Captain) who would acquaint them with the area and the route thereto; The company commanders were given the location and ordered to make their own reconnaissance of the forward assembly area.
After receiving the order there was approximately one hour of daylight left as the meeting was finished at approximately 1600, in which to execute a hurried reconnaissance and issue the company attack order. It was necessary to give the platoon leaders time to plan for their actions on the following day. The platoon leader of the machine gun platoon was sent to Charlie Co while his assistant platoon leader was sent to Able. The Hqs Co’s CO accompanied by the executive officer, the mortar platoon leader, the demolition officer, the company operations sergeant, the company communications sergeant, a radio operator, and a runner proceeded again to the high ground just east of Basse-Bodeux and made as detailed a reconnaissance as was possible in the remaining few minutes of daylight. The terrain was generally heavily wooded with ridge lines running in a north-south direction. The elevation of the ridge lines was from 400 to 500 meters. Small streams followed the low ground between the ridges but they, in themselves, did not constitute obstacles.
The road net running east-west was generally good but the one running north-south was generally poor. Wheeled vehicles were pretty much restricted to the existing roads due to the forests and the snow. The terrain sloped gently down toward the line of departure and was open and smooth from the forward assembly area to the line of departure. From the line of departure to the initial objectives the terrain sloped gently upward and was open. The initial objectives were wooded high points approximately 800 yards from the line of departure. It was decided to emplace the mortar platoon in a draw just east of Basse-Bodeux, the anti-tank and demolitions platoon (minus three teams) would move in the vicinity of the reserve company, the Company’s CP would be in a building in Basse-Bodeux, and the company commander, the operations sergeant, a radio operator, and one runner would move with the battalion command group. It was further decided that the mortar platoon would occupy their positions prior to 2400, January 2, as the division had, beginning at 2400, allotted the road running south into Basse-Bodeux to certain specified units at certain specified times.
The company attack order was given at approximately 1830 January 2, and due to the group reconnaissance earlier it was very brief. At approximately 1845, the platoon leaders began to orient their men and issue their own attack orders. Immediately after the men had been fed the units attached moved to their respective company bivouac areas, thus allowing the rifle company commanders to integrate them into their company organization much better. These attachments consisted of a machine gun section to each assault rifle company, a mortar forward observer team with an SCR-300 radio to each of the assault rifle companies, and three rocket launcher teams to the battalion headquarters. The company commander and the mortar platoon leader contacted the Battalion S-4 and obtained two additional two and one-half ton trucks which they immediately had loaded with 81-MM mortar ammunition. The 81-MM mortar platoon then moved into its firing positions completing the move at approximately 2230 on Jan 2 1945.
Movement to the Line of Departure & Final Preparations for the Attack
At 0430 on January 3, the battalion moved out of its rear assembly area and began its march to the forward assembly area in the following order of march :
– Battalion Command Group
– Able Company
– Charlie Company
– Baker Company
– AT and Demolition Platoon (-)
– Battalion Command Post
– Headquarters Company Command Post
The march was to be a move generally southeast on the road toward Basse-Bodeux for approximately three thousand yards then northeast cross country for another one thousand yards into the forward assembly area. The road was covered with a thick coating of ice making the going rather slippery, particularly so for the heavily laden soldiers. A gap quickly began to form between the battalion command group and the leading rifle company. The battalion commander was not worried about this as he intended to stop at the turnoff, and he didn’t believe the column could get lost following the only road in the vicinity. However the leading rifle company commander had not found the forward assembly area the day before and the assistant S-3 had made his reconnaissance of the wrong area. Consequently the non-com officer, who had been oriented by the assistant S-3 the day previously, led the company and the column to the wrong turnoff. The company turned northeast off the road on to a trail approximately one thousand yards short of the correct turnoff. Upon reaching the correct turnoff the battalion commander discovered that the column was not following the command group at all. He dispatched an officer back to find the column and bring them to the correct turnoff. The column was found and brought back to the correct route and forward to the turnoff, but it was 0730 before the head of the battalion moved off of the road toward the final assembly area. There was still one thousand yards to go and It was mostly cross country. The marching was slowed considerably by the snow. The final assembly area was reached at 0815 hours and the companies quickly deployed, made their final checks and moved toward the line of departure at 0845.
The Attack – January 3 1945
At 0915, Able and Charlie Cos crossed the line of departure, after having received some artillery fire on their approach to the Line of Departure. On the right, Charlie Co advanced rapidly toward its objective crossing the open space and entering the woods before it became engaged with the enemy. Once in the woods stiff resistance was encountered, Germans in well dug in positions about two hundred yards inside the woods opened fire and brought down considerable large caliber mortar fire on Charlie Co. The company deployed and overran the first few German positions capturing about ten POWs. The German mortar fire increased in density, in accuracy, and in effectiveness due to the tree burst, and the company was momentarily stopped. On the left, Able Co was met with intense artillery and small arms fire at the moment it crossed the line of departure. Most of the small arms fire was coming from the zone of the 2/517 on their left. Tanks were observed in the vicinity of Fosse and their fire was added to the weight of the German fires directed at this company. By moving aggressively the company advanced in spite of this fire to a position about one hundred yards from the woods where it was stopped by fire from its front. At this time the company was being hit by extremely accurate fires from its left flank, the vicinity of Fosse, fire from its front and from the edge of the woods. The company had suffered about twenty casualties including the company commander and one platoon leader.
Meanwhile in the zone of Charle Co, Capt Quinn, the CO, had committed his support platoon and had slowly advanced toward his initial objective. The German mortar fires increased, but by 1100, Charlie Co had captured its initial objective and was preparing to continue the attack southwest down the ridge toward Mont, and to seize the road running from Fosse to Saint-Jacques. Contact between Able Co and Charlie Co had been lost at about 1130 and had not been reestablished. Every effort to send patrols toward Able Co’s zone were blocked by Germans in positions along the creek running northeast through the battalion zone.
The 551’s CO, Lt Col Wood Joerg, ordered Baker Co in reserve, to displace forward to an area north of objective #2 and be prepared to attack and seize Saint-Jacques. Able Co, by employing artillery on the Germans in the vicinity of Fosse, this fire had to be cleared with the 2/517 and mortars, had managed to advance into the woods. Within the woods this advance was slow and bitterly contested every foot of the way. The company executive officer, who had taken over the company when the CO had been wounded, Lt Booth, had committed his support platoon just prior to entering the woods. The company advanced with three platoons abreast with their right flank generally along the creek. This slow advance continued until the company reached the near edge of objective #1. There the company halted momentarily and attempted to assault the German positions. After a sharp hand to hand engagement the company was thrown back and quickly counterattacked. This counterattack came at about 1300 and was supported by two German tanks. After more severe fighting the company was forced back to the edge of the woods where it dug in and remained for the balance of the day. Contact between Able Co and the 2/517, left flank, had never been made and with Charlie Co, had never been regained. The company commander had although been in contact with the battalion commander by radio all day long. Able Co had suffered approximately fifty casualties during the day due mainly to the lack of contact with the 2/517. Even after being driven back from their objective they continued to receive fire from the vicinity of Fosse until darkness. Two small counterattacks from the left were also repulsed during the late afternoon and, at approximately 1300, the battalion commander notified the regimental commander of his situation and his plan to commit the reserve company. The regimental commander concurred in this decision and notified the battalion commander that he would do something to take the pressure off his left flank.
In the zone of the 2/517, a very bitterly contested fight for the town of Trois-Ponts was shaping up. The entire battalion had been stopped immediately in front of the line of departure by a tremendous fire from the vicinity of Trois-Ponts, Fosse and the high ground between the two towns, consequently a gap of about 1500 meters existed between this battalion and Able Co. Shortly after notifying the regimental commander of his intention to commit Baker Co the battalion commander heard heavy firing from the vicinity of objective #1. Upon contacting the Able Co Commanding Officer he was informed that they were commencing the assault on this objective. In the hope that Able Co would be successful Baker Co was ordered to hold their attack on Saint-Jacques. Shortly thereafter the battalion commander was notified by Able Co that they were being driven back by a strong counterattack. Baker Co was then ordered to execute the attack as planned except the objective would be objective #1, the line of departure would be the creek running northeast, and the time of attack would be 1400. This attack would be in conjunction with a continuation of the attack by Charlie Co.
At 1400, Baker and Charlie Cos launched their attack after a short mortar preparation on their respective objectives. The battalion commander and his command group accompanied Charlie Co. Baker Co advanced slowly after crossing their line of departure against surprisingly light resistance and by 1600, had occupied objective #1. Charlie Co, however, in its advance down the ridge toward Mont, was subjected to intense and extremely accurate heavy mortar fire. The caliber was estimated at the time to be 120-MM. In spite of this fire the company advanced slowly clearing German positions to their front and by 1700, were in position overlooking the road between Fosse and Saint-Jacques. Here the company was forced to dig in on a terrace of the ridge and it underwent one of the heaviest mortar and artillery barrages, which lasted about thirty minutes, of its experience. At approximately 1800, the Battalion CP displaced forward to a position on objective #2. The mortar platoon was ordered to displace forward to a position just southwest of objective #2 and the three rifle companies were in approximately the same position they had been in at 1700. At this time the battalion commander received a message from the regimental commander outlining the plan of action for the night of January 3. To complicate things snow began to fall at about 1830.
The Night Attack of January 3-4 1945
The regimental commander had ordered the 1/517 to move through the zone of the 551-PIB, attack east and capture Saint-Jacques, Bergival, the high ground south of Fosse, establish and maintain contact with the 551 on their right and the 2/517 on their left. The regimental commander on division order instructed the 551 to execute an attack to the south and capture a barracks area that was thought to exist. The 551 was also to maintain contact with the 505-PIR on its right. The battalion commander planned to attack in a column of companies in order Baker, Charlie, and Able. As it was dark and he was anxious to begin the move with as little confusion as possible he decided the attachments would remain as they were during the day. The mortar platoon would remain in its present position, the Battalion CP would remain on objective #2, and the command group would follow Baker Co. At approximately 2200, January 3, the 1/517 had cleared our zone and launched their attack. By daylight they had captured the objectives assigned. At approximately 2230, after the 1/517 cleared our zone, the battalion commander ordered the movement to begin. Contact with the enemy was broken and the companies moved out.
Snow fell most of the night making visibility almost an impossibility. The movement was slow and halting but at about 0230, the battalion was in position for the attack. The battalion commander, because of the snow and darkness, ordered a patrol out to reconnoiter the approaches to the objective. The patrol quickly returned and reported that they had found no barracks nor Germans. The battalion commander then made a personal reconnaissance accompanied by two company commanders and they found the same situation to exist, no barracks and no Germans. Due to the possibility of being lost and the fact that radio contact with the Regimental CP was out, the battalion commander decided to remain in position until daylight. At daylight the battalion commander found the supposed barracks to be nothing more than a series of fire breaks in the forest in which were stored giant stacks of logs. This fact was immediately dispatched to the regimental commander. In the meantime the battalion was disposed as indicated. The companies were ordered to bring up a one-quarter ton truck each with rations and ammunition. The men were issued one K ration (a full ration) and in certain protected areas fires were permitted. The battalion command received a message from the regimental commander indicating a change in plans and ordering the battalion commander to meet him in the Battalion CP at 1000.
The Attacks of Janurary 4 1945
At 1000, January 4, the battalion commander met the regimental commander in the Battalion CP and was ordered to resume the attack at 1400. Attack east, seize Dairomont and the high ground west of Rochelinval and be prepared to continue the attack on order to the Salm River. The division command had committed the 504-PIR on the right of the 551-PIB with the mission of seizing the high ground west of Petit-Halleux. The enemy situation in our zone, at that time, was extremely vague. Dairomont was known to be occupied by the Germans but it was not known at what strength. For this reason the battalion commander decided to move in a column of companies, in the order Able, Charlie, and Baker, attack Dairomont from the northwest, continue east along the Dairomont – Petit-Halleux road and occupy the assigned objective.
At 1400, the battalion resumed the attack. In moving through the woods west of Dairomont a sharp encounter was made by Able Co with a strong German patrol. Approximately ten Germans were captured and six were killed. The battalion continued to move in column and Able Co emerged from the woods advancing toward Dairomont but were stopped by heavy small arms and artillery fire from the vicinity of Dairomont. It was approximately 1630, about one hour before darkness and the battalion commander felt that it would be extremely difficult and costly to attempt a direct attack on Dairomont during daylight. It was then decided to bypass the town, move around it during the night, and attack the town from the east at daylight with one company while occupying the battalion objective with the other two. The battalion was then disposed along the woods facing that town awaiting darkness. Periodic mortar and artillery fire continued to fall on the battalion positions. During this period the Battalion S-3, Maj Herman, an Artillery Forward Observer, whose name is not presently known, with Charlie Co, and the Executive Officer of Charlie Co, Lt Serio, became casualties. The battalion commander called the company commanders together and with the aid of a flashlight and a shelter half, briefed them on the movement for the night. The battalion was to move in a column of companies, in the order Charlie, Baker, and Able, cross country, seize Dairomont with Able Co and the high ground west of Rochelinval with King and Charlie Cos, Charlie on the left, at daylight on January 5.
The Night Attack of January 5 1945
At about 2000, the battalion moved out in a column of companies, and because of the heavy underbrush and forest, the companies were in single file. The march was slow and tortuous with halts every few minutes to keep the battalion intact. The weather cleared during the night of January 4-5 January and by midnight a full moon was out, which combined with the snow made the night almost brilliant. The temperature went down to slightly below zero which added to the discomfort of the men. At approximately 0300, the battalion was halted parallel to the Dairomont – Petit-Halleux road about one 800 meters southeast of Dairomont. A patrol was dispatched to the road to report any Germans discovered. They quickly returned and reported a German column of about one battalion strength halted along the road. Another patrol was dispatched to the front and they quickly returned with the report that they had encountered Germans in position about one 100 meters to the front. The strength of this position was estimated to be in excess of one platoon.
Sgt Spletaer, the Battalion Rigger Sergeant, was a skilled interpreter and he led each patrol. In each case, when the patrol was challenged, Sgt Spletzer, answered in German and evidently satisfied the Germans because there was no firing. The battalion commander then decided to turn the column around strike the road and attack east astride the road with Baker and Charlie Cos while Able Co seized Dairomont. This turn around was accomplished with difficulty as most of the men had fallen asleep and it was extremely difficult to awaken them. By now the cold weather was taking its toll of casualties. Those men who had made the mistake of falling asleep were literally frozen. In two cases the men had to be forcefully exercised for over an hour before it was possible to evacuate them. The boots and socks of the majority were frozen when they were awakened. From this time on to the end of the period described the non-battle casualties increased. These casualties were primarily frozen feet and respiratory diseases.
By about 0400, the turn around had been completed and by about 0430 the head of the battalion was at the edge of the woods, south of the highway and east of Dairomont. The companies halted and for the next two hours reconnaissance in preparation for the attack was made. Patrols fixed the position of the German column halted along the highway and it was discovered that Dairomont was still occupied. Shortly prior to daylight the three rifle companies moved to attack positions and at daylight the attack began. During the night the Battalion CP, the 81-MM Mortar Platoon, and the Headquarters Co CP had displaced forward to Saint-Jacques. Radio communication during the night had been excellent and as a result the 81-MM mortar platoon was in position to support the attack. Able Co captured Dairomont with only a few shots being fired. It suffered no casualties, one or two Germans were killed, and about thirty were captured. Baker and Charlie Cos faced a little different situation in their attack east along the road. The head of the German column was encountered about five hundred yards inside the woods and a brisk fight developed. The German column retreated quickly toward Rochelinval leaving only a strong rear guard behind. This rear guard was slowly driven in and by 1200, the high ground designated as the objective had been captured.
With the capture of the objective Baker and Charlie Cos were ordered to organize a defense on their present positions and to contact the 1/517 on the left flank and the 504 on the right flank. At about 0900, the regimental commander had visited the battalion. He informed the battalion commander that the 1/517 and 2/517 had occupied the high ground west of the Salm River in their zones during the previous night. The battalion commander was instructed to prepare his objective for defense when captured and that he did not know how long we would remain on the defense but to make plans for the continuation of the attack. The afternoon of January 5 was spent organizing the positions for defense. The squad rolls were brought up and issued out to the men, ammunition was replenished, mail was given out, and a full ration of 10 in 1 (Ten in One) was issued to the men. The battalion situation as of 1500, was as follows : Baker and Charlie Cos each with one section of machine guns attached were in position on the high ground west of Rochelinval. Able Co was in battalion reserve in an area behind Baker Co. Bn CP as indicated east of Dairomont wile the 81-MM mortar platoon was in position east of Dairomont
At approximately 1500, the Hqs Co Commander was ordered to blow the bridge over the Salm River just south of Rochelinval sometime during the night of Jan 5-6. It was hoped that by accomplishing this the Germans in the vicinity of Rochelinval would be unable to reinforce their positions in front of the battalion with additional armor from east of the river. Lt Farrin was ordered to constitute a reconnaissance party from the demolition section of five or six men and be ready to accompany the company commander on reconnaissance about 1800.
At 1600, the Regimental S-2, Lt Kyler, visited the battalion position. He and Lt Parrin conferred on the bridge job and apparently decided to make an early reconnaissance on their own. These two officers without other support and without notifying the commanders concerned started off. They advanced to a position about two hundred yards in front of Baker Co where they were ambushed by a small German patrol. In the resulting fight Lt Farrin was killed and the Regimental S-2 escaped to the rear. This took place at nearly 1630. The regimental S-2 reported to the Hqs Co Commander of the action and upon a report to the battalion commander it was decided not to blow or attempt to demolish the bridge during the night. This decision was made in the light of the experience of the two officers and a patrol report from Baker Co that had just come in. The patrol reported Germans dug in in strength along the high ground southwest of Rochelinval and around the town itself. It was decided that to be successful a large combat patrol would have to be sent out to seize the bridge while it was being prepared for demolition and that this being the case it was not worth while. This estimate was borne out in later operations. The Germans did not attempt to bring armor across the river. The reason being that they had better firing positions for it on the east side.
The Defensive Operations – January 6 1945
The night of January 5-6 was relatively quiet, the only action being patrol activity engaged in by both sides. During the night the battalion had ordered patrols out from both front line companies to determine the extent of the German position and attempt to estimate the strength of the Germans in position in the vicinity of Rochelinval. On the morning of January 6, the Battalion S-2, Capt Hartman, estimated the German strength to be approximately 500 and to consist of elements of the 9.SS-Panzer-Division. At 0900, a German counterattack in an estimated company strength supported by mortars, Nebelwerfer, and some artillery struck Baker Co. That Company however was aware that the attack was coming, as a local security outpost reported it, and heavy artillery and mortar barrages were placed on the advancing Germans. The counterattack was broken up before it reached the lines of the company and the Germans withdrew. Considerable Nebelwerfer fire continued to fall on the positions of the two front line companies during the remainder of the morning. Aside from a direct hit on the battalion message center at 1200, January 6, by a Nebelwerfer salvo, which destroyed considerable Christmas mail and packages, the day was relatively quiet. At 1400, the battalion was detached from the 517-PIR and attached to the 504-PIR. The battalion was to remain in place, its zone was not changed except that the battalion left boundary became the regimental left boundary.
The Preparation for and the Attack of January 7 1945
At 1600, January 6, the battalion commander was called to the Regimental CP and told that the regiment would attack at 0830 on January 7 to drive the Germans east of the Salm River and capture the towns of Rochelinval and Grand-Halleux. The regiment would attack with two battalions abreast, the 551 and the 1/504, the 551 on the left with the mission of seizing Rochelinval. One platoon of light tanks from the 740-TB would be attached to the 551 effective 0200 January 7. Upon his return from the Regimental CP, at about 1630, the battalion commander called the company commanders together and gave his attack order. It was briefly as follows :
Battalion would attack with two companies abreast
Able & Baker Cos (Able on the left)
Objective of Rochelinval to Able Co
High ground southwest of Rochelinval and the railroad to Baker Co
Each company will have one section of MG and one Mortar Forward Obobserver attached
Charlie Co will be in reserve and assemble in the vicinity of the Company CP
After passage by Able Co, Charlie Co also will support the attack of Able Co with a section of machine guns and be prepared to reduce the road block between their positions and Rochelinval
The tank platoon will be in reserve and assemble in the vicinity of the Battalion CP
The 81-MM mortar platoon will support the attack from its present position with a five minute preparation of Rochelinval
Priority of its fires going to Able Co
During the night of January 6-7, intensive patrolling was carried out by both Able and Baker Cos reconnoitering routes and approached to their objectives. The patrols in all cases were reconnaissance patrols and had no fights with the Germans during the night.
To completely understand the forthcoming action it will be necessary to review the casualties suffered by the battalion up to date. The battalion had suffered approximately 400 casualties since January 3, approximately 200 of which were killed, wounded, or missing. 10 men were listed as missing up to this date and another 200 were non-battle casualties, trench foot, frost bite, and respiratory disease. The Rifle Companies with the exception of Able Co had an effective strength of approximately 50 men and officers. Able Co had an effective strength of approximately 30 men and officers. The Hq Co had an effective strength of approximately 60 men and officers. During the night of January 6-7, 2 replacement officers were assigned to the battalion and delivered to the Battalion CP about 2300. They were promptly reassigned to Able Co. Both were casualties by noon of the following day. One was killed and the other wounded.
The Attack of January 7 1945
At exactly 0830, Able and Baker Cos crossed the line of departure, which was the line of contact, on their attack east toward the Salm River. Each was met with a heavy volume of artillery, mortar, Nebelwerfer, and small arms fire. Baker Co however made rapid progress in its zone and by 1000 had captured the high ground assigned as one of its objectives. Baker Co had experienced some casualties and had killed or captured about forty Germans. The battalion commander ordered Baker Co to continue its attack and clear its zone down to the west bank of the Salm. In the zone of Able Co the situation was considerably different. The company had been met with considerable German fire when it crossed the line of departure and as the company advanced the fire increased. When the company cleared the trees and began its advance across the open ground in front of Rochelinval the fire became murderous. The Company Commander, Lt Booth, and one of the newly assigned replacement officers, were both killed as the company advanced across the open ground. The advance continued however until the lead elements reached a positions about one hundred yards west of the town where they were stopped completely and finally. Radio communication with the battalion was out, but the mortar forward observer was still alive and operating his radio, unfortunately he was separated from the two remaining company officers (a Rifle Platoon Leader, Lt Durkee, and the Machine Gun Platoon Leader, Lt McNair) and could not reach them. This mortar observer directed considerable accurate mortar fire upon the German position and about 1100, called for a smoke mission to cover the withdraw of the remnants of the company.
At the Battalion Observation Post confusion was king. The observation post was in the immediate vicinity of a machine gun section of Charlie Co, supporting the attack, and considerable German mortar fire was falling in the area. The battalion commander was aware of the situation of Baker Co but was very much unaware of the situation of Able Co. He was certain that Able had been halted by German fire because he could observe the intensity of it, but being that he had no communication with the company commander, and being unaware until about 1100 that he had been killed, he was reluctant to arbitrarily order fire into the area or to commit the reserve company. Some German positions within the buildings were picked up and the battalion commander ordered the light tank platoon to come forward and take them under fire. This they did, the tank fire was very effective and assisted considerably the withdraw of Able Co. The battalion commander was killed as Able began to withdraw. The mortar fire that had been falling upon the Battalion Observation Post all morning was very effective.
The Battalion Executive Officer, Maj Holms, was immediately notified. He arrived shortly from the command post, took a quick look at the situation, ordered the tank platoon attached to Charlie Co, and ordered the company to attack Rochelinval from the northwest and southwest with two groups simultaneously, utilizing at least one tank with each group. The company commander was ordered to move his company into attack positions immediately and to notify him, Maj Holms, when ready to attack. The mortar platoon was ordered to place continuous fire in as heavy a rate as possible until Charlie Co was ready to assault the German positions. The mortar platoon fired approximately seven hundred and fifty rounds into and in the vicinity of Rochelinval in support of the attack of Charlie Co. At approximately 1300, Charlie Co with the tank platoon attached attacked the town. As the company neared the town the mortar fires lifted and the town was taken with very little fighting. Charlie Co captured over two hundred and fifty Germans inside the town. A count of the German dead in that vicinity totaled over 100. At 1430, Charlie Co had control of the west bank of the Salm in its zone and the entire battalion was closed in on its objective.